By Philip Agbese
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” – George Bernard Shaw
The above quote should hit Rueben Abati if indeed he has a conscience and a duty to be patriotic to Nigeria, the land of his birth. It might however mean nothing to him if he seeks to redefine patriotism. But before he does, let me assist him with a few definitions.
According to Wikipedia, “Patriotism is the ideology of love and devotion to a homeland” The Cambridge English dictionary also defines patriotism as “the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it.” According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, patriotism is “love for or devotion to one’s country.”
I am constrained to pen a response to an article written by the almighty Reuben Abati titled “The Asaba 2018 Disgrace” published on the Back Page of Thisday Newspaper of August 7th, 2018. I was bemused by the factual inaccuracies that characterized the article. And to think Thisday newspapers could give it a pass is the more baffling. If not for the mere fact that I knew Reuben Abati (before his political sojourn), I would have said that he wrote the article for pecuniary gains.
But I will never say such a thing about Rueben Abati because some of us have been mentored by him through his writings in numerous ways standing alongside the fact that he was one-time Special Adviser on Media to the President and therefore some crisp wads of naira notes dangled around his eyelids, ordinarily should not get him nervous. But I may be wrong.
Back to the crux of the issue. Rueben Abati got everything wrong in his analysis. I would guess this came to him as one of those days where writers experience what is called writer’s block, which is the “condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing”. So I should not use it against him in this instance, but not at the expense of being patriotic.
The said article read like a narrative essay which meant that he was on the ground and experienced all that transpired first hand. But facts indicate he was nowhere near Asaba neither was he with the athletes that claimed they slept on the bare floor at the airport. I am sure he was somewhere, maybe attending a meeting or engaging twitter trolls on burning national issues, as we now know him for.
The real disgrace was that he wrote out of sheer ignorance, which is unbefitting of a writer of his status. How and where he got, figures amounting to four billion naira might be a figment of his imaginations. And he also knew that the running tracks were bumpy from the comfort of his country home.
Furthermore, using the recently concluded World Cup in Russia to buttress a point, is most unfortunate and embarrassing. Again, he said “In the recently concluded 2018 World Cup in Russia, countries fought hard because they knew their national image was at stake. The host country received plaudits for giving the rest of the world a tournament to remember”. And again, writer’s block at work here because common sense tells that the World Cup is a global event that takes years of preparations and billions of dollars in expenditure. The hosting rights is also a competitive bidding process among countries. Then, how could he have compared the level of organization at the recently concluded World Cup tournament with that of the African Senior Athletics Championships?
What was he expecting to happen? Extensive coverage of the event by international media houses? Blue chip companies struggling for advertisement slots? Presidents and Head of States, taking up VIP stands at the stadium? Supporters of the various countries taking up every available hotel space in the country? Gold plated running tracks? I don’t get it.
He continued with “There were reports of the tracks being terrible: with bumps and potholes in a newly completed stadium. It is called the Stephen Keshi Stadium. The late star footballer and coach must have been turning in his grave, furious that some of his compatriots have used his name in vain, and so disrespectfully.”
The question is “whose report was he referring to?” from his correspondents on the ground? He went so low by being comical when he wrote that “some of the athletes even pointed out that they were afraid of being injured, so they had to run carefully.” In all, I do not know how to place his thought process when he was writing the piece because he displayed tendencies of emotional upheaval. Or maybe one of those bad days for him as he seemed to have lost the plot. The curious thing was that none of the above happened at the event. It would have made a bit of sense if the plot was to advocate for improved service delivery instead of coming all out most viciously in the manner he did.
It is akin to comparing advanced democracies with emerging democracies. Assuming that there were some organizational hitches during the competition does not mean the organizers of the event got it all wrong. I dare say that even the Mundial in Russia that he used as his template might have experienced a couple of hitches that were not brought to the pages of newspapers. Did he know that power supply was cut off at Volgograd Stadium after water pipes and sewerage systems broke?
These are common occurrences and not peculiar to Nigeria and ASABA 2018 as Ruben Abati wants the world to believe. Did he know that the Russian press downplayed all the hitches that were experienced during the tournament? That is patriotism at work. And he should learn from this. We should not drag the reputation of the country to the mud. The curious and despicable aspects of his write up were quoting what some athletes tweeted. I am not sure he took out time to ask relevant questions? This is just a shame and belittling of a personality like Reuben Abati. I stand to be corrected.
If the likes of Rueben Abati could stoop this low, by saying “This Asaba disgrace should be addressed, and intelligently too,” Then who would address him intelligently on the need to cross check facts before hitting the send button? If you ask me, who would I ask?
For a fact, the allegations as canvassed by Reuben Abati are not only baseless, but smack of mischief as most of the narratives were blown out of proportion. Yes, there may be a few hitches here and there, but not in the magnitude of what Reuben Abati tried to paint. For starters, no such amount of money was budgeted or expended for the tournament. Secondly, hotel reservations were made for the visiting athletes upon arrival in Lagos Nigeria.
This is in cognizance of the flight schedules of the airlines flying the Lagos-Delta route. Therefore, the narrative does not fit as no athlete was made to sleep at the airport. It will also be appropriate to mention that officials of the Confederation of African Athletes (CAA) inspected the facilities on the ground and gave the pass mark before the commencement of the tournament. As a fact, the officials in their report stated that the facilities on the ground could also host a world tournament.
The President of CAA, Hamad Kalkaba in an interview posted on the website of CAA (http://www.caaweb.org) stated that “Asaba has been successful from the crowds in the stadium and the support of the people of the state and the city. There was also a commitment from the athletes themselves to compete, and you could see and feel that they are happy to be here to compete. Also impressive was the high number of journalists covering the event.”
If such can come from the organizers, one wonders where Rueben Abati got his information from. He apparently relied on twitter stories by some athletes who decided to dramatize the whole scenario. And our almighty Reuben Abati fell hook, line, and sinker for it. Now, this is the real disgrace.